Life in north London all started so promisingly for Shkodran Mustafi when he became Arsenal’s record defensive signing in the summer of 2016.
Following a protracted £35m move from Valencia, Mustafi went straight into the Gunners starting XI and fan hopes were high. Indeed, he initially seemed to be the team’s new good luck charm, with the German not tasting defeat in his first 22 appearances – a club record.
Despite this impressive run, concerns about Mustafi’s impulsive, maverick style of defending quickly crept in. His costly tendency to brashly dive in or switch off completely (not mutually exclusive) didn’t keep him out of the team however, as he made 75 appearances in his first two seasons at the club.
There was an argument that the centre-back’s worrying performances belied his true talent; that Arsene Wenger’s lack of emphasis on defensive coaching was actually the real reason for his inconsistency. There was hope under Unai Emery.
That hope is already well and truly extinguished.
Mustafi’s latest horror show came at Selhurst Park on Sunday afternoon in a game which neatly summed up his kamikaze deficiencies.
He needlessly lunged in on Cheikhou Kouyaté as the ball bobbled around the six-yard box to gift Palace their first penalty of the afternoon. For the Eagles’ second, the German charged miles up the pitch, got turned by Alexander Sørloth, then missed two easy opportunities to haul him down and break up play – something any other experienced (and more delightfully cynical) defender would have done.
Lo and behold, that error of judgement eventually led to Palace’s second penalty as they brought an end to the Gunners’ winning streak.
It has led to the usual outpouring of anger from Arsenal fans, with calls for him to be dropped immediately in favour of literally anybody else – even Inanimate Carbon Rod if needs must.
But you can’t just write off £35m of “talent” that easily. So how do you solve a problem like Mustafi? We’ve come up with five alternative uses for Gooners’ latest boo boy…
1) Working as a live action lookalike for Hank Scorpio
No human has ever looked more like a cartoon character than Shkodran Mustafi and his remarkable resemblance to The Simpsons’ Bond villain, Hank Scorpio. Given Orlando theme park Universal Studios contains its own version of Springfield, Arsenal would do well to stick him on the first plane out there to gain him work as live action lookalike.
Better yet, if they insisted on charging £10 for each meet and greet, Arsenal could recoup that lumpy transfer fee in no time at all.
As an added bonus, Mustafi could also get some Major League Soccer minutes under his belt with Orlando City. Although that would hinge on him passing their trials, and we’re not 100% confident he could manage that.
2) Become the world’s most realistic training ground dummy
If he is to continue in Arsenal’s back line, fans probably wish Mustafi would just stand still as opposed to going on his all-action runs and going to ground in the worst possible place.
But if the coaching team can drill in to the German that all he needs to do is stand still on the training pitch to benefit his teammates, he would instantly become the world’s most realistic and effective dummy defender.
Sure, at £35m he would also be the most expensive figurine in football history, but at least he would be having a positive impact on the team this way. Plus there’s no risk of him rusting in the rain, is there?
3) Being a stooge in Arsenal’s contract negotiation practice
For a club so proud of their self-sustaining methods, Arsenal’s approach to contract negotiations can only be described as madcap.
In recent years they have been backed into a corner by players such as Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, who were allowed to run their contracts down into the final six months. And this year it looks as if Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck – two players who feasibly could have netted the Gunners £60m+ in the summer transfer window – will instead leave the club on free transfers in 2019.
There’s no denying the club can improve this element of squad management. But how? Well, rather than risk his on-pitch decision making costing them points, Arsenal could instead have Mustafi acting out various contract negotiation scenarios again and again until the club get the process down to a fine art. They’d earn back that £35m in future transfer fees quickly enough.
4) Leading Arsenal’s first ever cheerleading squad
It’s fair to say the atmosphere at Emirates Stadium can leave a lot to be desired, particularly when there’s no French manager to hound out of the club.
So why not introduce the club’s first ever cheerleading squad to get the home crowd going on the sidelines? The man to lead this troupe is staring them right in the face after all – just check out Mustafi’s nifty dressing room dance moves following their victory over Leicester City:
Throw him a set of pom-poms and whack him in a frilly skirt as opposed to questionable Y-fronts and a perfect new career awaits the German. So long as he doesn’t start slide tackling his fellow dancers as they build a human pyramid, anyway.
5) A new job as Mesut Ozil’s official cheerer-upper
The Gunners’ mercurial playmaker was not a happy bunny after being hooked during the second half at Selhurst Park, throwing his gloves down in a show of dismay. Will that negative episode affect his morale? Can he keep his chin up for the next game?
They’re questions which simply wouldn’t need to be asked if Mustafi was to become Ozil’s very own personal court jester. It goes without saying Arsenal need to keep their £350,000-per-week star happy if they’re to get the best out of him and achieve their targets going forward.
What have they got to lose by ensuring they’ve got someone with a proven ability to keep a smile on Ozil’s face doing the job? Happy players off the pitch make happy players on it, after all.
Failing all of these options, Arsenal could also just try selling him and bringing in someone who knows how to defend properly.
But where would the fun be in that?